NaturalPoint TrackIR 4 PRO & TrackClip PRO Review

Makaveli - 2007-02-15 21:03:28 in Gaming
Category: Gaming
Reviewed by: Makaveli   
Reviewed on: February 22, 2007
NaturalPoint
NaturalPoint
Price: $179.95 USD (TrackIR) & $39.95 USD (TrackClip)

Introduction:

Gamers around the world are always looking for more. More realism in games, more options, more freedom. Could NaturalPoint’s TrackIR head-tracking device be the next Big Thing? Perhaps a stepping stone for more freedom on the gamers’ path to absolute realism? Join us as we take an in-depth look into these unique devices.

NaturalPoint was founded in 1997 as a high quality image tracking and unique computer control device manufacturer. In recent years, the company has released technologies such as this head-tracking unit, which previously have not been available to the general public. They continue to stride for giving the gamers, and ordinary computer users, the opportunity for more freedom.

Closer Look:





I was expecting a big box because I thought everything was going to be packaged separately, but the TrackClip PRO and the TrackIR 4 PRO were in the same package. There was absolutely no kind of padding for shipping, which was a disappointment.



At first glance, I thought it was the impossible-to-open type of plastic container, but fortunately, it wasn’t. The front and back part of the plastic popped open easily to expose its contents. The back of the box lists the details of what you can do with these devices.



There was no hard copy of the instruction manual, which is something I always like to read before doing anything.

TrackIR 4 PRO is a head-tracker, which means it records the motion that you make with your head. It sends the signal to the game, which processes it as movement on the screen. It is a view-controller, meaning that you cannot move anything except the head of your character. I was expecting to be able to steer my car while racing, so I was disappointed to find out that it wasn't possible.




The TrackIR is much smaller than I expected, which is a huge plus. The first thing I noticed was how the left side of the feet aren’t connected like the right side is. As I read the manual stored on the CD, I found out why.



The legs are completely adjustable to help you secure it in place. In the image above, you can see how to fold it to hook onto a LCD monitor. The feet are rubber so the device doesn’t slide all over the place.



Here is the TrackClip PRO, which hooks onto your headset. It has three infrared LEDs that help the TrackIR to track more precisely. The TrackClip ensures the user that their movements will be recorded much more efficiently than without the TrackClip. This is an optional add-on to the TrackIR, so you don't have to have it to use the TrackIR.



The TrackClip moves vertically 180 degrees but doesn’t have nearly as much horizontal mobility. If you don’t have the TrackClip, you can still use the TrackIR with the vector clip.



The vector clip has 3 reflective stickers to imitate the TrackClip’s infrared LEDs. You can clip this unit to a hat to use it in place of the TrackClip.

Installation:

First, let’s install the TrackClip onto my headset.



The TrackClip connector pops open and then you install it on the left side of the headset. It is NOT compatible with the right side of the headset. Once the headset is in between the padding of the TrackClip connector, snap the connector together to securely fasten the TrackClip to the headset.



Both devices are connected via USB. The good thing is that the TrackClip has a USB port for the TrackIR to plug into. After the TrackIR is plugged into the TrackClip, you simply plug the one USB cable to a free USB port.




After you have the TrackClip installed, set the TrackIR on top of your monitor. If you’re using a LCD monitor, bend the feet of the TrackIR to grip the top of your monitor. NaturalPoint suggests that you place the TrackIR on the left side of your monitor so that it can communicate with the TrackClip more efficiently. The green light on the TrackIR tells you that it’s tracking. The blue light on the TrackIR turns on when you’re playing a game that is compatible with the TrackIR. When the TrackIR is disabled, the top light will be red. The four red lights are for centering purposes when you first hook up the TrackIR.

Now that the hardware is installed, let’s install the software.

Configuration:

When you first pop in the “Quick Start Guide” CD you’ll see this:



The demo included on the disk is “Ship Simulator 2006”. Click the “Install TrackIR Software” link. After you install the software and open the TrackIR program, you’ll see this:



The “Main” tab is the place where you can see which profile you’re using, what game you’re playing, and what device is present. The “Profile” tab is the place where you can see all of the games which the TrackIR supports and also the different profiles which you can use for different games. You can easily make your own by clicking “New” at the bottom of the “Profile” tab. Also, using the NaturalPoint website, you can upload and share profiles with other users.



At anytime, you can edit your profile by going to the “View” tab in the menu. When you click tracking, you’ll see this:



The 3 green dots are exactly what your TrackIR is seeing from the 3 infrared LEDs on the TrackClip. As you move closer, you’ll see dots get bigger. When you click settings, you’ll see the following options:



The image on the right is what you’ll see if you click the “Heads” option under the “View” tab. As you move, you’ll see the head on the right doing more drastic movements than your head.



Here is where you can monitor your sensitivity on all of the 6DOF (6 degrees of freedom). The six degrees of freedom are as follows: Yaw, Pitch, Roll, X, Y, Z. Yaw is basically you moving your head as if you were saying "No" and Pitch is as if you were moving your head saying "Yes". Roll is simply that; rolling your head to either side. X is moving your whole upper body to the left or right. Y is sinking up and down in your chair. Last but not least, Z is moving your head toward and away from the screen.



To change anything, you have to edit the profile which these settings belong to. To do that, simply go to the “Profile” tab and click “Edit”. For me, the racing settings needed to be changed and it took seconds for me to perfect the profile for racing. Make sure that when you switch games, you switch your profile. When I first tested racing, I accidentally left the profile on "Flight" which ended up being no fun at all. I then put on my racing profile and it was much better.

If you have the TrackClip, be sure to select the specified option in the “Edit Profile” window. If you don’t, the TrackClip will not be used. Also, in the "Edit Profile" window, you see the "Hotkeys" tab.



I personally found that F12 (centering hotkey) was very useful when I messed up my view and couldn't go back to looking straight ahead. Pause was also a nice feature, because when someone was talking to me, I could just pause the TrackIR so that I could continue looking where I was while my attention was elsewhere.

Specifications:


TrackIR 4 PRO-

TrackClip PRO-

Testing:

Test System (All Stock)



To test these devices, I downloaded 2 different game demos from the NaturalPoint site. Aces High II (Flight) and GTR 2 (Racing). NaturalPoint recommends that you use these products in dim light to ensure efficient readings. I decided to run all the tests in the dark so that interference would not be an issue. I also ran the quick game option for each game. Here are the results from GTR 2.



The first image was when I was completely still and centered. The second image is when I leaned forward as far as I could go.



After playing around with these devices for hours, I finally got the hang of using them. I was disappointed that you could not control the steering wheel when you turned your head but it was still fun to use. Concluding the racing test, I decided that it helped to use the TrackIR & TrackClip while racing because it gave me the opportunity to look out my windows while taking turns to see who was catching up to me. In PC games, I never really liked to use the in-car view but after using these devices, I've started warming up to using that view.

Next, I ran Aces High II, which is a World War II flying game.



After I ran this test, I knew instantly that these devices are almost imperative to have for flight games. They truly made the flying experience much easier. Without these devices, you couldn’t move around the cockpit to see your blind spots unless you turned the plane around. With these devices, you can simply look where you would if you were actually in the plane.

I wanted to see what would happen when I had the TrackIR software running while playing a game that wasn’t on the supported list. This game was Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Nothing happened when I was moving my head in the game but later, I found in a link in the TrackIR folder called “Mouse Emulation”. I clicked it and it was what I wanted. I was able to control the mouse with these two devices flawlessly. I still couldn’t control the steering...

Conclusion:

Overall, I really like the TrackIR 4 PRO and the TrackClip PRO units. However, for my style of gaming, they aren't too practical. Being high-end gaming peripherals, these units are for people who are really into flying and racing games. If you are just an occasional gamer, the TrackIR 4 PRO & TrackClip PRO combo can be a little pricey. These units made it much easier to play because it made it possible for me to look freely around the cockpit without having to turn the plane around. I did benefit from using these devices in racing games too. I could see my opponents much easier and calculate my turns more efficiently, ultimately giving me the upper hand in the games. Hopefully down the road, we can use our heads to actually steer the cars or fly the planes. In my eyes, these products are an excellent start for the next generation of gaming.

UPDATE ***2/26/07***

Today I tried ArmA which is a game on the enhanced list on NaturalPoint's website. It's a modern combat first person shooter. After playing for just over an hour, I liked what I experienced. I played many games, but the game that I really enjoyed was the capture the flag games online and how I could run towards the flag, scope out all of my surroundings by turning my head. This was something that I've never been able to do in an FPS without turning my whole character around. I still found myself reverting to how I have played FPS games my whole life; the mouse. I'm going to stick to what I said earlier...for my style of gaming, I feel that I have more control with my mouse than with my head since I have been trained to play that way. When I looked around normally, it was fine, but when I was getting shot at, I jerked my head which made my character look way further than I anticipated. I finally got used to not jerking my head, and it didn't make too much of a difference. Overall, I don't feel that the freedom of looking around really made my experience much better. I truly feel these units are optimized for racing and flight simulator games but are a bit behind in the FPS games. For example, I tried to look around a corner on one of the maps, but I failed to do so. I tried all different angles and distances to try to look around the corner, but when I almost had it, I couldn't see anything because I was looking straight at my rifle. Hopefully, there will be more FPS games which utilize these devices so we can thoroughly test to see if these devices REALLY help the game go above and beyond what it is with a mouse.

Pros



Cons